Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Extended Image
I've been preoccupied lately with the mechanics of message – how poets say what they have to say. What makes one image seem to "work" while another falls flat?

Ted Kooser is one of my favorite contemporary poets, so I decided to start my study with his poems. Today I'm studying "Mourners" from page 16 of Delights and Shadows, because it's deceptively simple, strongly image-driven, and succinctly powerful.


After the funeral the mourners gather
under the rustling churchyard maples
and talk softly, like clusters of leaves.
White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade:
highlights on deep green water.
They came this afternoon to say goodbye,
but now they keep saying hello and hello,
peering into each other's faces
slow to let go of each other's hands.

-by Ted Kooser

Delights and Shadows
Ted Kooser
Copper Canyon Press
ISBN Number: 1556592019

This poem leaves me introspective - thinking about people... how we need each other... how we're all the same... how the act of saying goodbye is an affirmation of life. There's a clear image in my head of a churchyard with rustling green maple leaves and milling mourners reluctant to go.

I'm studying how he delivered this message, taking it line by line:

L1: A rhythmic intro, setting scene and action (mourners gathering)
L2: An image: Leaves rustling in trees.
L3: A comparison of people to leaves on a tree (soft talk and rustling)
L4: An image: Cuffs and collars flashing.
L5: A comparison of one image to another (green related to leaves and life) implying deeper meaning.
L6: A statement in common language (nearly cliche)
L7: Contradiction of above statement, language chosen to echo the point.
L8: An action indicating recognition, and a need for community.
L9: An action indicating reluctance to separate.

Backing up from Kooser's lines and looking at the poem as a whole, I notice certain global relationships between images and comparisons.

The global extended image here seems to be a dappled surface:
1. rustling maples, clusters of leaves
2. cuffs and collars flashing from the shade
3. highlights on green water

The global comparison in this poem seems to imply that a gathering of people is a dappled surface - composed of individual elements, but all basically alike.

There's more going on in this poem than just a few related images, but I'm left wondering if this poem would have been as effective and immediate if the images didn't relate so strongly to the developing metaphor. How would this have affected my lingering introspection at the bottom of page 16, long after I finished reading?

** For those very few who don't own Delights and Shadows: Buy it. The imagery is masterful.

posted by Carl Bryant @ 1:39 PM   4 comments Literary Shirts

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At 8:27 PM, Blogger Rus Bowden said...

Hi Carl,

Just to note, that there's also the use of reflection. The cuffs and collars are reflecting off the water, and we the readers are reflecting off the image presented in the poem. So we become part of the scene. Those become our cuffs and collars; their hellos, echoes of our hellos, thus the repetition.

Furthermore, the image takes place in a natural scene, very likely groomed by landscapers. So people, we included, are part of nature, and it becomes important to say those hellos. We empathize with this situation, so bring our own urge to say hello to the poem. The communion is with each other naturally, and with nature naturally.




At 10:54 AM, Blogger Carl Bryant said...

Thanks for the analysis, Rus - that's certainly a good angle for study.

I'm reviewing poetry that I enjoy, with the eventual goal of applying certain broad rules to the revision of my own poetry. I know that there are many poems which don't follow any set "rules." For the purposes of my self-instruction, it doesn't matter. I'm happy to think of one poem as an "A-type" and another as a "B-type."

My hope is to be able to eventually grade my own poems (on strength of related imagery, etc.)

It's probably ultimately foolish, but it'll surely be a learning experience.




At 7:03 AM, Blogger SarahJane said...

that book is on my wishlist.
thanks for bringing us the poem



At 12:44 PM, Blogger Carl Bryant said...

No Kooser books, Sarah?

You poor, deprived Euro-poet! Drop your address in my hotmail box and I'll get a care package out right away.



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